Transurban, the company managing toll roads including the M2, M5 and WestConnex, is being examined by a New South Wales government inquiry into road tolling regimes.
The inquiry, chaired by Greens MLC Abigail Boyd, is considering the safety record and economic benefits of Transurban’s tolling regime.
Transurban claimed in a report this year: “When customers choose our roads they can rely on them being amongst the safest in their regions”.
However, when compared with the casualty data recorded by the Centre for Road Safety (CRS), there is a difference in how many accidents are recorded.
According to CRS, there have been more than 5961 casualties, including deaths, on Transurban roads in NSW between 2009–2019, with an average casualty rate of more than 500 deaths a year.
Transurban’s failure to reveal this information may have been case of misrepresentation or a misunderstanding of the data. It may also have also been a deliberate attempt to deflect safety concerns.
Transurban has also attempted to hide road accidents by dividing the number of casualties by the length of the roadway along which the accidents happened. According to Transurban crash data, the average number of injuries and deaths per year is 6. The actual number is 53.
How does Transurban reconcile its claimed “integrity, accountability and collaboration” with an attempt to conceal road safety information?
Road safety concerns discourage people from driving on toll roads, leading to a loss of revenue for Transurban. It is likely that ongoing rises in toll costs is an attempt to compensate for loss of revenue.
Transurban hired management consultants KPMG to make a case for road tolling. KPMG estimated that toll road networks will contribute $5.6 billion a year to the state’s coffers for the next 30 years.
But this is false because it fails to take account of the “time value” of money — a sum of money is worth more now than the same sum will be, at a future date, due to its earnings potential. It is also not believable because it does not take into account the loss of money for the road user.
According to audited financial statements, toll road users paid a total of $23.8 billion between 2012 and this year. This amounts to about $2.4 billion a year, more than $3 billion less than KPMG claims toll road users will pay each year for the next 30 years.
The KPMG figures cannot be relied upon.
The politically-motivated privatisation of NSW roads is proving to be a failure. The continuous theft of the public money, through ever escalating tolls, has shown to have had no economic or safety benefits.
Transurban borrowed more than $28 billion and has shown no evidence in audited accounts of any repayments. At the same time, Transurban executives are paid 27 times more than average weekly earnings — about $45,192 a week.
The financial rewards for Transurban executives continued increase of tolls and the poor treatment of toll road users who are unable to pay higher rates can only be described as obscene.
There is hope that the inquiry will do something about the anti-social, politically-inspired rort that is currently being exploited by Transurban.
[Dr John Goldberg is a toll road expert and former honorary associate at the University of Sydney.]